Reading Journal for May

In May I’ve been marching steadily through one of the best series of science fiction novels I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. I also finished one of my long-term audiobook recording projects.

The Gladstone Colony : An Unwritten Chapter of Australian History by J. P Hogan

I reviewed this book in an earlier post.

The Time Traders by Andre Norton

This is older sci-fi, which suffers a little in that its techniques have gone from revolutionary to ubiquitous. Andre Norton uses real-world archaeology to inform her worldbuilding, which was considered magnificent, but that archaeology is out of date, and the story’s pace is slow now that her revolutionary tricks don’t spark. Difficult to recommend. Possibly for fans of early sci-fi. I listened to a Librivox version, but I’m not sure which. (There are two.)

Falling Free, Mirror Dance, Memory, Komarr, A Civil Campaign, Winterfair Gifts, Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance and Cryoburn by Lois McMaster-Bujold

The impressive thing about the Vorkosigan series is the way it stays focused on the relationships between, and the inner lives of, the characters. This is odd in sci-fi, which can easily become either about the technology, or about the puzzle in the plot.  The books are also diverse in their appeal characteristics. They all lie comfortably within sci-fi, but have subtle flavours which make the works very different to each other.

To compare the most extreme contrasts, consider Falling Free and A Civil Campaign Falling Free is set hundreds of years before the other books. Its plot problems are solved with engineering, so it’s as hard as the SF gets in this series. This contrasts with A Civil Campaign, which is, as its subtitle notes “a comedy of biology and manners”.  It’s a Regency romance, and there are scenes in it so humorous that my laughter woke my wife from the other side of the house. The stories between are a spy thriller, a whodunnit and a mystery novel.  McMaster Bujold’s ability to use her characters in such versatile ways is  refreshing for fans of the genre who have become a little tired of its overused conventions.

All are excellent. and highly recommended for fans of science fiction. My one recommendation, though is to read Cryoburn between A Civil Campaign and Lord Vorpatril’s Alliance. The last two are both romances, and the second one fades a bit in comparison to the first. A Civil Campaign cheats itself to double length, by putting much if its character establishment in the earlier Komarr, so Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance seems to pack things in a lot more. I think the  romantic farces could work better if separated by some grittier material.

The Library Service has these various books, in multiple formats. Rather than linking each, I’ll link the author.